This photograph of the town-owned land at 136 E. Main Street, taken by Tim Blagden, president of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail this past winter. Blagden said it indicates how much of the property can sometimes be flooded. (Courtesy.)
By Ray Carbone
WARNER – Town residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions concerning the future of a 3.13-acre town-owned lot, now that the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail have expressed an interest in it.
The town originally purchased the property at 136 East Main Street in 2016 for $75,000 as a potential site for a new fire department stationhouse. The site was later rejected for several reasons, including the fact that it’s vulnerable to seasonal flooding, said Jim Bingham, the town’s administrator. “It borders on the Warner River and a significant amount of that land is within the flood plain. That area’s been flooded more than once, and some of that has been recently.”
‘Do we drop the (land) price significantly for the rail trail people to buy it? Or do we give it to them? Or do we hold to it and give them an easement?”
Selectman Kinberley Edelmann
At the annual town meeting the following year, residents gave the selectboard clear directions about the property, according to Kimberley Edelmann, the board’s chair. “The instructions were, get our money back,” she recalled.
Now two years later, the vacant lot remains unsold and local realtors estimate that its value has decreased significantly from the original $75,000 asking price, Bingham said. (The annual town report lists the property’s value at $68,070.)
Meanwhile, proponents of the rail trail and others interested in local conservation and recreation have come to town leaders with proposals about a variety of ideas including the development a dog park, a new car-top/carry-in boat launch, and developing space for bocce and croquet players.
“So the question is, do we renew the listing, given the fact that it’s likely to go for a much lower price,” Bingham asked rhetorically. “Or, maybe it’s of more value to the town down the road for potential recreational uses and possibly furthering the economy.”
The Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail is a nonprofit organization based in Warner that hopes to develop a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly project would connect the towns of Newbury (at the southern tip of Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the state capital. Supporters say that facilities like the rail trail can improve both a community’s overall health and its economic vitality.
Tim Blagden, president of the organization’s board, said that one of the project’s biggest challenges is acquiring the needed land and/or property easements to construct the trail. Unlike what’s occurred in other areas of New Hampshire, the state never purchased the Concord-Claremont railroad bed so Blagden and his supporters must move through the proposed trail section by section, talking to private landowners, state agencies and local municipalities, to secure easements or purchase property. (About half of the proposed new trail project would include already developed trails like Warner’s rail trail, and the recently approved three-quarters trail between the Appleseed Restaurant and the Pizza Chef plaza in Bradford.)
The town-owned lot is an important link for completing the local trail, Blagden said, because it would eventually help connect the old rail bed from one side of Interstate 89 to the other.
“The railroad grade is on the front of that lot, on the street side – close to Route 103,” he explained. “It’s maybe 40-to-50 feet off the street pavement… We usually ask for a 30-foot wide path and the trail is about 14-feet wide. The extra space is for maybe a bench or a sign or just to trim the brush back… That would cover about 21,450 square feet. That’s just under half-an-acre, or just under 16-percent of the total lot space.”
The selectboard considered the question at its July 3 meeting, Edelmann reported.
“What the selectmen don’t know is how the citizens of Warner feel about the rail trail,” she said. “And what I want to know as chairman is, how much support does the town want the board of selectmen to give to the rail trail project.”
The answer to that will impact what the town does with the Main Street land, she noted. “Do we drop the price significantly for the rail trail people to buy it? Or do we give it to them? Or, do we hold to it and give them an easement?”
The level of support could also help town leaders understand issues related to development in the areas around I-89’s exit 9, and in the Waterloo section of town, Edelmann explained.
On July 3, the selectmen decided to not relist the East Main Street land for the moment and to bring the issue to the annual town meeting in March.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on July 24, 2018.